Meet Springfield's Community Navigators

The new Community Navigator Program has two years and $1 million to make as big of an impact as it can in Springfield and some of its most underserved communities, says Reggie Troutman, the program’s director.

The pilot program, designed to help socially and economically disadvantaged business owners, began just a few months ago. Troutman says it focuses on two things: Trust and impact.

If the program meets its minimum goals, it will have brought $2 million in loans to underserved communities, he says, along with at least 80 jobs and thousands of hours of coaching and training.

“It’s a great opportunity for Springfield and Clark County as a whole,” he says.

Springfield’s Small Business Development Center was one of just 51 organizations nationally awarded this competitive grant, and one of just two in Ohio, he says. The money allows the program to partner with local nonprofit organizations and fund community navigators who will connect and engage with specific groups of entrepreneurs who have sometimes been left behind.

The program, which started in December, helps both current and aspiring business owners. They can be coached and connected with resources and professionals who can help them, as well as learn the basics about how to start a business, get a loan and more.

Because the program is new, it has the freedom and flexibility to find what works. It is like being in the wild west with a charge to find gold, Troutman says.

“We have the ability to be creative,” he says.

The program aims to assist those who may not be aware of the help and resources that are available. Small business owners that find success become pillars of the community, he says, and in the process contribute to a diverse economy.

Troutman wants the program to help as many people as it can in the two years that it has, and every day counts.

“The clock is ticking,” he says.

The Hub Springfield asked the program’s community navigators about the challenges the entrepreneurial communities they will be helping face, along with how they will help and their goals for the program. This is what they say:

Entrepreneurs in Southwest Springfield
Non-profit partner: 1159 South Community Development Corporation
Community navigator: Lawrence G. Beavers, president and co-founder

The residents that Beavers assists in southwest Springfield are not always aware of the resources that can advance the quality of their lives, he says.

To fix that issue, the organization will connect entrepreneurs to those needed resources that will improve the health of their businesses, he says. That, in turn, will help the group with its goal to enhance the lives not only of business owners, but other residents of southwest Springfield.

“Through the Navigator program specifically, 1159 South is in a position to offer access to important business tools such as marketing, credit counseling, tax consultation, as well as assistance with starting, scaling and selling a business,” Beavers says.

Rural and food-related entrepreneurs
Non-profit partner: Clark County Local Foods Council
Community navigator: Heather Christine, ex officio/community navigator

Whether entrepreneurs in the rural or food-related community already have a business or simply have the spark of an idea, Christine wants to make owning a business less intimidating.

To make the journey easier, Christine will learn about their business, their goals and what they need to accomplish. Businesses in this community face several challenges, including profitability margins and supply chain issues, she says.

“After knowing their business, I take my knowledge of programs and training and then match them with my client's needs,” Christine says. “I take each step with my client, so we learn and grow together.”

Black Entrepreneurs
Non-profit partner: The Conscious Connect
Community navigator: Camille Hall and Dorian Hunter, community navigators and small business coaches

To understand the current state of Black businesses and why they are underserved, Hall looks to the past. She sees how the Black business community has been impacted by civil unrest in other places, and she points to discriminatory lending practices and redlining.

“Historically, the very existence of Black life has been challenged by systematic racism,” Hall says. “This system has inescapably impacted the Black entrepreneurial experience.”

Hall says that she and Hunter will work one-on-one with current and aspiring entrepreneurs to learn their needs, develop a plan and connect them to resources. They hope for an increase in both funding opportunities and disbursement for minority businesses, and to see a Springfield that is “more diverse, equitable and inclusive” in its shared spaces, she says.

Hispanic and Latino entrepreneurs
Non-profit partner: Del Pueblo, Inc.
Community navigator: Manuel Lopez

The Hispanic and Latino community is entrepreneurial by nature, Lopez says. But language barriers, access to technology, transportation issues and more can be barriers to success.

“We are translating documents, guiding the clients through the different processes with our non- Spanish speaking partners and putting together business seminars in Spanish for those aspiring entrepreneurs as well as existing business owners,” he says.

Lopez will guide them through the process, spreading information throughout the community so that it is better known. By supporting and empowering the community, the “knowledge will exponentially increase,” he says.

Entrepreneurs with disabilities and service providers
Non-profit partner: Developmental Disabilities of Clark County
Community navigator: Marty Fagans, manager, transition and transformation

Fagans’ goal? To see people with disabilities launching businesses that match the skills and passions they possess with the products and services needed locally. Success will lead to an increased acceptance within the business community, he says.

“Too often society judges people with disabilities as incapable of working let alone owning their own business,” Fagans says, and this misconception creates barriers to capital and starting a business.

What’s more, service providers that assist people with disabilities are going through a workforce crisis that was made even worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, he says. But with decades in the field of disabilities, Fagans says he can help the community develop business plans and navigate obstacles.

Entrepreneurs that are returning citizens
Non-profit partner: OIC of Clark County
Community navigator: Neal Browning, vocational instructor 

Many citizens who are returning to the community have never been told that they can achieve success, Browning says. So the first step is to help them believe in themselves and trust the process. Then he can help them find the best resources for their business.

His primary goal is to change the mindset, not only of the entrepreneurs, but also of the people with resources who can support “a new generation of bold, talented, gifted and skillful people.”

“The challenge that those in the returning citizen community face is society looking at their past and not seeing what skills and gifts and talents they possess and having doors and opportunities shut because of it,” Browning says.

Aging entrepreneurs
Non-profit partner: United Senior Services
Community navigator: Terry Black

Entrepreneurs ages 55 and older own or start a business for many reasons, Black says. A business can pay their bills, allow them to save for travel, or even help them turn a hobby into a money-making venture. The list goes on.

“Many seniors aren’t ready to retire,” Black says.

Black helps aging business owners plan, learn more about financial assistance and get access experts in fields such as accounting and law. As a senior himself, Black says he knows about the challenges this community faces, and he wants to help these entrepreneurs envision their goals.

Entrepreneurs who are immigrants (Latino and Haitian)
Non-profit partner:
Welcome Springfield
Community navigator: Maria Goeser

Goeser says it is a privilege to do outreach with the small and underserved community of immigrant entrepreneurs. She links current and future business owners to the resources, organizations and professionals that can help.

Everyone should have the same opportunity to start and expand a business, and Goeser hopes that Springfield will become a magnet for entrepreneurs because the community offers the assistance and support to help them reach their goals.

“Keep in mind a lot of this information is difficult in English. Imagine having to interpret in a language they can understand and continue encouraging them that they can do it!” Goeser says. “It's been a challenge, but I am honored and blessed to have the opportunity to help them be a part of the American dream!”
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Read more articles by Diane Erwin.

Diane Erwin is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Springfield News-Sun. A graduate of Ohio State University, her articles have appeared in a number of publications in Springfield and Dayton. In addition to her journalism background, she has worked in marketing and written copy for businesses throughout the country. In her spare time, she likes to read, dream about Schuler’s donuts, and travel near and far with her husband and two children.